Breast cancer is a disease in which cells in the tissue of the mammary gland multiply uncontrollably. It is currently the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women, accounting for almost 30% of all cancers.
It can originate in different parts of the breast, although in most cases its origin is in the ducts or lobules.
Two main types of breast cancer can be distinguished:
- Inflammatory ductal carcinoma, which originates from the tubules through which the milk produced in the gland flows;
- Infiltrating lobular carcinoma, in which the cancerous cells spread from the lobules to nearby breast tissues.
Like all other tumors, breast cancer is classified into different stages according to its extension based on factors such as tumor size, regional lymph node involvement and extension to distant organs.
Symptoms of breast cancer
Symptoms may vary from patient to patient. However, some common warning signs include:
- Appearance of a lump in the breast or armpit.
- Swelling or change in size of the breast.
- Irritation or other changes in the skin of the breast.
- Sinking of the nipple.
- Pain in the breast on palpation.
- If any of these symptoms appear, it is advisable to see a doctor as soon as possible. However, you should not be alarmed, as they may be associated with other benign diseases.
A family history of breast cancer increases the risk of breast cancer, as does early menarche or late menopause, the absence of pregnancies during fertile life, estrogen and progestin use after menopause, exposure to ionizing radiation at an early age, obesity or alcohol consumption.
The risk of breast cancer increases with age, since 90% of cases are diagnosed in women over 50 years of age. In order to detect the problem as early as possible, health authorities recommend regular mammograms between the ages of 40 and 70.
Treatment options for breast cancer
With current therapies, practically 90% of women diagnosed with breast cancer will still be alive 5 years after diagnosis, a percentage that exceeds 98% if the cancer is diagnosed in the early stages of its development.
As with any tumor nowadays, treatment must be individualized and multidisciplinary.
Surgery remains the mainstay of treatment in most cases of breast cancer. The technique chosen, mastectomy or conservative surgery, will depend on factors such as the location of the tumor, the size of the tumor or the size of the patient’s breast.
Together with the mammary gland tumor, the axillary lymph nodes will be studied, either by direct removal or by the sentinel lymph node technique, which will avoid the complications of axillary lymphadenectomy.
Sometimes it is advisable to complement surgery with techniques such as radiotherapy or systemic treatments.
Radiotherapy can be administered as an adjuvant (complementary) treatment to surgery or in cases where it is necessary to palliate some symptom.
- Systemic treatments
In terms of systemic treatment we can distinguish 3 types: hormone therapy, chemotherapy and targeted therapies.
The decision as to which patient will be a candidate for each of these systemic treatments will be determined by factors such as clinical stage, receptor status in the tumor sample, histologic grade, HER2 status and the patient’s age.
Currently, there are genetic tests available that will help us to determine the risk of relapse of the disease after surgery and that we will apply in specific cases, such as those patients with tumors without lymph node involvement, hormone receptor-positive and HER2-negative.